By Keith Davis
Shantel VanSanten gives the scoop on season one of Shooter, what it's like working with Ryan Phillippe, and discusses a cause that is near and dear to her heart. Check out the exclusive interview.
USA Network: For those who are getting their first taste of Shooter, how would you describe the show and what should they expect in this first season?
Shantel VanSanten: The show is a conspiracy theory action thriller. It's about a Marine Corp sniper, who is a veteran, who gets coaxed back into preventing a plot to kill the President and then gets framed for it. I think for a lot of people who have seen the movie and know of the book Point of Impact, they're going to be pleasantly surprised because it is a modern take on it. Bob Lee (Ryan Phillippe) has fought in Afghanistan, which many of our veterans who are alive today know what that's like. I think that its modern interpretation makes it relatable.
This season really is kind of a whirlwind. You start off in the first episode and it sets up where the rest of the season takes you. I always say hang on to the first episode, there's a lot of information in it, and after that you're on the ground running with all of us through trying to prove his innocence.
USA Network: You play Julie Swagger, who is Bob Lee Swagger's wife on the show. How would you describe Julie to everyone?
VanSanten: Julie is the wife of a veteran. She's a wife and she's a mother. But more than that, she's this tough, strong-willed woman full of her own convictions and ideas. I always have this metaphor of them as two equally strong oak trees with different abilities. Obviously his skill set is a lot more physically capable, but she is very intelligent. I don't know if Bob Lee could be married to a woman who doesn't have his mindset -- who doesn't think 10 steps ahead, who doesn't know how to handle things, who isn't cautious. So she's all of these really wonderful qualities of so many women that I've spoken to.
USA Network: How did you prepare yourself for the role and do you think it's an accurate depiction of the life of a military wife?
VanSanten: I was excited. What really interested me is taking on that role. In our world today, right now, we have, I think 21.8 million veterans living. And you take one character, Bob Lee, and you have to represent them as a whole. In order to play Julie, I felt that responsibility. Even though we're telling a different story that I pray nobody ever has to go through, it is still founded in the grand responsibility of representing so many family members and loved ones of veterans. They have amazing blogs for women whose husbands are fighting. Whether it's the Army, Navy, or Marine Corp. I read a lot of them because they are such a great support system to each other. They all have similar feelings that they go through, from their husband or wife's first tour, to what might have been their last one, to being injured, to the unfortunate ones who have lost their loved ones. And it's this community that I couldn't stop reading.
I also spoke with a lot of women who've been there. Who know the emotion, the roller coaster, the dealing with uncertainties. I think Julie's used to it; she's just not used to it in this exact circumstance and that's where the challenges get presented. But her number-one priority is their daughter. At the end of the day she knows the capabilities of Bob Lee and she knows where she needs to step in and she knows absolutely the only thing that matters the most is their daughter.
USA Network: It seems like family values is a major theme of the show. Can you talk about that a bit?
VanSanten: Yeah that's the core and the heart of the show. That's what Bob Lee is fighting for. If he didn't have it and was fighting for himself, I can't tell you if it would be a very interesting show to watch. But when you have stakes that are that high, when you have a wife and you have a daughter, and for the men who are fighting for our country, those are the things that weigh on them the most. It isn't always "Am I going to live 'til tomorrow?" It's "Am I going to live for my family, for my daughter and my son, for their daughters and sons?" It's what drives them all and it's what's driving Bob Lee in the story as well. It's obviously what can be so quickly dangled in front of him and threatened, so it sets the stakes pretty high. But I think that he also knows and trusts Julie, his wife, to be able to handle her own. So that's not something he has to worry about as much.
USA Network: What's it like working with Ryan Phillippe?
VanSanten: It's amazing. It's really interesting the way that they navigated making sure that our characters stayed connected and how they stayed connected. It was really wonderful to see the writing in that respect. They really are very connected throughout the whole thing, even if they are not physically in each other's presence. So when I got to work with him throughout the season it was like, "Oh, hey, husband! You know I haven't seen you lately." He has such a wonderful presence about him and he is such a strong individual. I've always felt that he does beyond justice to playing a veteran and the responsibility of representing so many of our real heroes, their lives, and the things that they've been through. He did a really incredible job.
We all worked so well together and and came to the set with ideas on how to elevate the script. That's what you pray for when you do a show, is to be able to elevate the material beyond even the expectations of each other and those who wrote it.
USA Network: Is it true that Ryan was doing his own stunts on the set?
VanSanten: 100%. I'm pretty sure he did the majority of all of his stunts. That's something that's really authentic. He didn't shy away; he wasn't afraid to get cuts and bruises. It's not even about breaking nails -- he would come in to do hair and makeup and be like, "I have two bruised ribs," and they're like, "Holy crap!" He's fully committed to wanting to make the best show possible and it shows when you watch it.
USA Network: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and I know this an issue that is close to your heart. Would you like to talk about that a little bit?
VanSanten: I'm going to try to not be emotional, but my grandmother -- Doris was her name -- raised me along with my mother. In March of 2014 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and we were all shocked. She's a non-smoker. We felt really confused and very ignorant once I found out the facts that there are many, many other causes. And she battled lung cancer four or five months, and I was there living in a hospice with her and took her to radiation. I was there when they cut out part of her lung. I was there throughout all of it and she ended up passing away. I started sharing from the day she was diagnosed, because she had survived breast cancer and I thought this was going to be an amazing and empowering survival story, and she didn't mind that I wanted to share.
Unfortunately, through her passing, it wasn't the ending that I had hoped for. I did a walk in April and, because I had shared her story, so many people know and are educated from what I have shared. We found out the cause only six months ago of my grandmother's lung cancer, which was radon. Joe Biden started a task force to eradicate radon in homes by the year 2020 because it kills thousands of people a year. Radon is the breaking down of uranium and soil that is so toxic it literally causes small cell lung cancer, which is the worst because it has a pretty low survival rate.
So I feel very fortunate that I have a platform and a voice to share my grandmother's story. Because all she kept telling me was that she wanted to inspire people and I feel that she does through me being able to give speeches and to share her story. I feel overwhelmed and grateful for everybody that's listened and for the opportunity to share. It is something I feel really passionate about.
USA Network: If there was just one thing you'd want a viewer to take away from the show, what would that be?
VanSanten: I think that when people watch it they should enjoy the show for the action and what it is, but there are moments where we obviously speak to something bigger than just the show. I feel proud that I'm on a show that speaks to an intelligent audience, that doesn't have to explain everything. It is such a fun show, in the action aspect, but it also has a lot of heart and soul. I think that, with the way that the first season kind of wraps up, that there are places to go and I kind of can't wait to see where the audience would want it to go. There are little nuggets of things that we've left behind that are undone and could go many different ways.
See pictures from the series premiere:
Watch the thriling Shooter series premiere episode, "Point of Impact," online now!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.